Up at something unreasonably early to dump the tortoise on lovely Havercrofts, then the long road north, with Oliver at the helm anticipating his next driving test. Leaving Bristol, we talked about a chap trying to exterminate grey squirrels in his area and replace them with red ones – someone determined to be on the wrong side of natural selection, I feel – then I florped over onto the bags and slept until we were at the northeastern bounds of the Lake District. For Americans and other heathen foreigners, Bristol to Penrith is about a third of the way across the United Kingdom; shut up, what we lack in size we make up for in history.
And it was very different terrain. Everywhere there were these hills. While Bristol is full of murderously steep hills it’s so urban you don’t really see them, and the surrounding countryside is pretty subdued. I am born and raised a stadtkind and am always amazed when I see naked countryside in decent quantity and a shape other than Flat; here it was, dirty great lumps in the surface of the earth, whole ranges of them, punctuated with woods and clusters of white spoil-heaps, bristling with conveyors and gantries. Wild terrain, but tamed land on top of it. Artificial looking mounds and a few collapsed houses lay among corrugated-roofed farms and fields irregularly delineated by dry-stone walls. People started building dry-stone walls here centuries ago and have carried on pretty much without stopping since. We passed a forest of wind turbines at the National Park boundary and wondered about Lake District nimbies; more idiots determined to be on the wrong side of history. One of the turbines had its blades feathered and wasn’t turning. It’s always a shame to see technology without hustle.
Lunch in Penrith at a chippie very proud of its awards, and possibly responsible for the generally rotund shape of the local Penrithers; had an “Angel Burger” (double cheeseburger with mayonnaise; the counterpart “Devil Burger” had sweet chili instead) and the meat was deep fried rather than grilled. We weren’t even in Scotland yet, and the OIL IT UP approach was evident; I love a place that takes its cholesterol seriously.
Near the source of the Clyde we found the hill Scoular Anderson had stood on writing Journey Down the Clyde, and took a photograph to match it; the bridge has been rebuilt, the trains that streak down the line are different, but the pylons, the river, the hills are the same. Up into those same hills we drove, to find the Wenlockhead lead mining museum, past a deep depression carved down the years by the slowly slipping meanders of a river (I wanted to take pictures, there was one amazing side of a meander which clearly showed all the stages of erosion and regeneration: bare rocks, bushes, scrub, soft even turf – but Mum said I’d get a chance when we drove back along that route; we didn’t) and under hilltops sprouting arrays of ominous-looking, half-hidden radio aerials. We found the museum, but the staff were absurdly fussy and nannylike, trying to plot our itinerary constantly, glancing at their watches, tutting; you got the impression they were desperately happy just to have someone to talk to, as well as a good idea of why they were so desperate. The museum itself was good, though, having shaken off an escort. It had a bunch of exhibits of Various Rocks, lead ingots and fire-marks and big old flanged bullets with their moulds, a scale model of the mine’s beam engine, a poem Robbie Burns had written to pay the blacksmith for shoeing his horse (cheapskate). There was surprisingly little silver. Up the hill there was an ancient miners’ subscription library full of relentlessly Improving books, all Victorian science and natural history, and more psalms than I would have thought existed, and down the hill past the ancient, rickety beam engine we were treated to a tour through the history of miners’ huts (given by the museum’s token non-overbearing staffer, who happened to be the token male one). At one point the landowner had granted the locals the right to build houses on any flat ground they could find, which given the scenery wasn’t the offer it sounds like. The mine was all in ruins, littered with the shattered, rusting detritus of various eras, and the cafe was closed when we returned, so back into the car, and another few leagues on to Lanark.